Bleak House ch. 21-25

Dear J-

With a bit more novel under my belt, it’s starting to both make a little more sense and become an easier read. You start to settle into a rhythm and the words start to flow better.

  1. The Smallweed Family
  2. Mr. Bucket
  3. Esther’s Narrative
  4. An Appeal Case
  5. Mrs. Snagsby Sees It All

Progress: 41%

Last year Catch-22 introduced a whole motley crew of characters, only to see them disappear one by one in the waning chapters. This year I’m a third of the way through and still, new faces and new stories come to light. I’m not going to write anyone off like I supposed Jo was going to be — not only is he still a vital piece of the last five chapters, he’s been taken under the wing of well-meaning adults, although I suppose that Mr. Chadband is another one of these more impressed with the appearance of charity than the execution. As a matter of fact, it may turn out that Jo is central to the mystery, having witnessed something that only the ignored might.

Our latest characters are retired-military George and his manservant/clerk Phil. After such tortuously named people like Turveydrop, Tulkinghorn, Dedlock, and Snagsby, one might suppose that Dickens has exhausted his creative ear for sinister-sounding appellations, but it may be a sort of guest spot — a way to insert a normal person into the colorful cast. We continue to be treated to Dickens’ oddly intimate England, where no character isn’t worth recycling — we run into the bricklayer’s family and friends again, with a child representing both hope and fear:

“But I have been a-thinking, being over-tired to-night and not well with the ague, of all the many things that’ll come in his way. My master will be against it, and he’ll be beat, and see me beat, and made to fear his home, and perhaps to stray wild. If I work for him ever so much, and ever so hard, there’s no one to help me; and if he should be turned bad ‘spite of all I could do, and the time should come when I should sit by him in his sleep, made hard and changed, an’t it likely I should think of him as he lies in my lap now and wish he had died as Jenny’s child died!”

Mr. Jarndyce’s charity continues unfettered; the three orphaned Necketts are plucked from their dire situation and employed at light work. Dickens exerts a benevolent yet firm hand to his subjects — even Gridley, at rest at last after his failed suit in Chancery. Caddy seems to be on the verge of escape from the frying pan to the fire, trading an indifferent mother for a wastrel father-in-law. And Richard continues to trade careers, finally choosing one that means saying good bye to all he knows and loves.

It is the un-casual indifference to life and good intentions that rings truest; the story of Job is intended as a parable in perseverance (one that I would imagine Cubs and pre-2004 Red Sox fans are familiar with, though not to the same degree), and I wonder if Dickens intends similar lessons. If life is a cat toying with us, seemingly cruel and capricious, perhaps seeing it through Dickens’ eyes lends us perspective on the supports that keep us whole, the relationships that lend us love, the startling coincidences and similarities in our shared human experience.



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